It is appropriate that public art dealing with immigration marks entrances to Chinatown. The area has been a portal into the region for various groups since 1769, when Gaspar De Portola passed through on his expedition to Monterey Bay. "The Immigrants", Alberto Biasi's monument at Casa Italiana, stands at the northern entrance and "Circular Motion" by Ernesto Montano stands at the corner of Broadway and Cesar Chavez Boulevard on the south. Together, these two works represent downtown's complete collection of public art directly relating to immigration.
Throughout its history, Los Angeles has been a city of immigrants. First from Spain and its colonies, later from Mexico and the United States, and in recent decades from Latin America and Asia, waves of immigrants have profoundly shaped, altered and transformed the character of the city. While current immigrants provide cheap labor for the region's garment and tourist industries, restaurants, day care facilities, and suburban families needing house and childcare, their presence has not been completely welcomed. After ignoring the education, employment and health needs of all but the most wealthy people in the State of California, Republican Governor Pete Wilson approached the 1994 election with dread. Public opinion had turned against him and the polls showed that he would lose the upcoming governor's race. Unable to campaign on issues that affect the lives of ordinary citizens, Wilson diverted attention from his failed administration by supporting Proposition 187 because it would have relieved the tax burden of his wealthy political supporters by denying basic health care to hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants and throwing unknown numbers of children out of school and onto the street.
Against this emotionally and politically charged background "Circular Motion" was developed. Funded by a $15,000 grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency at the request of the Agency's Administrator, Edward J. Avila, "Circular Motion" was supported by Jovenes, Inc., a non-profit corporation formed in 1989 to provide social services to undocumented and homeless immigrants, the Asian Pacific Health Care Venture, East/West Community Project, Gay Asian Pacific Support Network and the Chinatown Service Center.
"Circular Motion" was the first of a planned three part public art installation that evolved from a series Ernesto Montano began in 1993 called "Migration." The other two public art installations, "Who is the Stranger," which depicts a woman, wearing an eye mask decorated with flags of countries that were dramatically affected by migration, and "Swimming in the Soup," which portrays flags of the world suspended in soup, while a swimmer is surrounded by the symbols of multi-culturalism, were never installed.(1)
Both the title and design of "Circular Motion" refer to migration as a worldwide phenomenon that is circular without end.(2)
Montano represented the nations of the world, not by the outline of their political boundaries, but by flags laid out in bands on a curved floor. Immigrants, who are carrying their meager possessions, step over narrow canyons separating the flags as they walk to the viewer's right. Montano used flags from Europe, the Near East, Latin America and Asia, but his initial choice provoked long simmering political and ethnic animosities. Armenians complained about the presence of Turkey's flag, and Taiwanese objected to China's. As a result, Montano substituted Korea's flag for China's and Algeria's for Turkey's.(3)
The artpiece, constructed of plastic vinyl, has a seven to ten year life span. It is located in the elevated frame that held the sign for what was the East-West National Bank. Three Star Sign, which built the fame and fabricated the former sign, assisted Montano by cutting the material he used to assemble the mosaic of flags.
Installing "Circular Motion" was part of a clean-up and upgrade of the small adjacent building, which houses Jovenes. The dedication of the mural on December 8, 1994, which was attended by 200 people, coincided with the renaming of the segment of Sunset Boulevard where the artwork is located to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.(4)
1 Jovenes Inc. Grant Request to the Community Redevelopment Agency City of Los Angeles, June 2, 1994.
2 "Migration", artist statement, Ernesto Montano, no date.
3 Interview of Ernesto Montano by Michael Several, December 13, 1995.
4 "Public Agency Perspective," December 14, 1994 by Donald R. Spivack, Director of Operations, Community Redevelopment Agency.